DES MOINES, Iowa — A woman charged with intentionally hitting two children with her vehicle in December 2019 — because of their skin color — pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to two hate crime charges.
Nicole Poole Franklin, 43, of Des Moines, Iowa, was charged after a string of incidents on Dec. 9, 2019, during which police said she hit a 12-year-old boy, who is Black, and a 14-year-old girl, who is Latina, with her car and yelled racial and ethnic slurs at a gas station employee.
Poole made her initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on Wednesday afternoon. She was charged with two counts of violating the U.S Hate Crime Act for trying to kill both children because of their races. Poole said she has been schizophrenic as an adult and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors recommended she be sentenced to 27 years in prison and that the charges be served at the same time as state charges she is also facing.
Poole pleaded guilty in state court Monday to two counts of attempted murder. Both of those charges carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.
It was unclear if a state hate crime and five other charges in state court will be dropped as part of the plea agreement. Poole’s state public defender, Matthew Sheeley, declined to comment. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone did not return requests for clarification on the state’s plea agreement.
She’s due to appear in state court Thursday.
Poole said she thought 12-year-old was an Islamic terrorist
At 3:54 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2019, police said Poole intentionally ran over the boy as he walked on a sidewalk at an apartment complex in Des Moines. He suffered minor injuries to his leg, according to a criminal complaint filed in state court.
In federal court on Wednesday, Poole said she thought the boy was of Middle Eastern descent and was in the Islamic State terrorist group. Surveillance video showed Poole’s vehicle driving over a curb to strike him, according to the state’s complaint.
At around 4:20 p.m. that afternoon, Poole struck the girl as she was walking on a sidewalk, according to police complaints. The 14-year-old girl was hospitalized for two days, according to the Associated Press.
Police said Poole told them she targeted the girl because she was “Mexican.” Poole told police she smoked meth hours before the incidents, according to a criminal complaint. She said again Wednesday that she struck the child because she thought she was “Mexican.”
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‘Horrific thing and people were concerned — especially people of color’
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on Islamic Relations in Washington D.C., said the group was pleased to learn that Poole had pleaded guilty to the state’s charges.
“We welcome this guilty plea as the culmination of a law enforcement effort to hold the perpetrator accountable,” he said in a statement. “It is our hope that the court will impose a sentence that reflects the severity of the crime, as well as the victims’ wishes.”
Joe Gonzalez, the executive director of Latino Resources Inc. and a former Des Moines police officer, said the incident traumatized the girl, but her family was thankful neither child was killed.
“Anytime things happen to any minority, people are concerned about what happened,” Gonzalez said. “It was a horrific thing and people were concerned — especially people of color.”
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said the organization was still learning about Poole’s state plea Tuesday.
“America and Iowa have a long way to go to reach a space where every human is valued equally,” she said in a statement. “We continue to be concerned about the cultural trauma her victims have experienced and how this can be addressed in times where people of color continue to be targeted for their skin.”
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Six hate crimes committed in Iowa during 2019, according to the FBI
The FBI recorded six hate crimes in Iowa in 2019 because of a person’s race, ethnicity or ancestry. None occurred in the Des Moines metro area.
But, Henry said, hate crimes are typically under-reported.
“The thing we hear from the Justice Department in prior years is, ‘It just doesn’t rise to the level of a hate crime,'” he said.
The family of the teenage girl was in court Wednesday, and the toll the incident took on her was apparent. As Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer read the charges aloud to Poole, the victim wiped tears from her eyes.
Poole’s actions deeply affected Iowa Latinos, Henry said. Her plea deals with the state became public at the same time the country awaited a verdict in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. The former Minneapolis police officer was charged with killing George Floyd last year. He was found guilty Tuesday.
“I think it’s very significant,” Henry said. “I think it’s a very significant time, and everything is under the microscope.”
Follow Philip Joens on Twitter @Philip_Joens.